Space Sunday: space stations, telescopes and images

A conceptual image of the completed Orbital Reef space station, with a mix of rigid and inflatable additional modules, and a Dreamchaser Cargo spaceplane docked to the right, and two Boeing CST-100 Starliners docked on the left. Credit: Blue Origin / Sierra Space

October 25th, 2021 saw an announcement that caught much of the space media by surprise during the proceeds of the 72nd International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, when Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Sierra Space, the space development arm of the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), revealed they plan to lead a multi-corporate venture to establish a commercial space station in Earth orbit by 2030.

Orbital Reef, as the facility is to be called, is intended to see the consortium led by the two companies establish the basics for the station by the later 2020s, allowing for a potential transition of orbital operational from the International Space Station (ISS) to Orbital Reef by the time the ISS is retired in 2030.

Under the partnership, Blue Origin will develop large-diameter core modules and utility systems, as well as provide launch services using its still-to fly New Glenn heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV), whilst Sierra Space will provide additional inflatable modules for the facility, and use its Dream Chaser cargo space plane for resupply missions, and (at some point) the original crewed version of the space plane to transfer personnel to / from the station.

Conceptual rendering of Genesis Engineering Solutions “single person space vehicle”. Credit: Genesis Engineering Solutions

Other companies involved in the project include Boeing, who will supply a science module for the station provide their CST-100 Starliner crew vehicle for personnel transfers and provide all ground-based systems operations and support for the station, and Genesis Engineering Solutions will provide a “single person space vehicle” that is already being called the “space pod” for on-obit operations around the station in situations where “suitless” EVAs are desirable.

Blurb for the station states it will be used for a variety of roles: commercial ventures, research across a number of fronts (with Arizona State University leading a consortium of 14 international universities that plan to participate in the research work) and – inevitably – a vacation destination for those with deep pockets.

A promotional video for the station shows it have a long, pressured core module, complete with large windows, together with fore-and-aft docking ports for visiting space vehicles, and multiple port along its sides for the addition of permanent or temporary modules, which can also have their own docking facilities. However, this is said to be the “final” configuration of the station, complete with a multi-array solar power system; the initial “baseline” facility will be far smaller and more modest.

The completed station will be positioned at 500 km altitude – somewhat above the ISS’s nominal 475 km – and will be capable of supported up to 10 people at any one time, with 830 cubic metres of usable internal space – marking it as slightly smaller than the ISS – although this can, as noted, be expanded through the use of additional modules.

The announcement comes as one of several offered in response to NASA’s Commercial LEO Destinations programme, which will select up to four proposal for commercial facilities to replace the ISS, and finance the initial R&D ins each, with further funding to cover certifying the stations for use by NASA astronauts. However, both Sierra Space and Blue Origin have indicated they plan to move ahead regardless of any NASA seed funding.

A critical factor for the project will be Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket. Development of this initially commenced as a design study in 2012, with the project formally announced in 2016. However, unlike the development of the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy (which started development at the same time as New Glenn), it has yet to fly, and has seen a number of shifts in direction.

Like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 core stage and their Super Heavy booster, the first stage of New Glenn is intended to be reusable. However, earlier in 2021, the company announced plans to accelerate the development of a reusable upper stage, code-named Jarvis which – in grabbing a leaf from the SpaceX book of how to do things – will be in part be of a stainless steel construction. Because of this, coupled with issues experienced in developing the vehicle’s primary engine, the BE-4, the first flight of New Glenn most likely will not take place until very late in 2022, or early 2023, some three years behind the original target date.

Dreamchaser Cargo spaceplane and external unpressurised cargo module / power “trunk”. This craft is due to start flying to the ISS in 2022, and would be used to fly resupply missions to Orbital Reef. Credit: Sierra Space / SNC

While timeline slips in any developing project are to be expected (just look at NASA, or indeed, “Elon Time” vs actual time with SpaceX projects), the pace of development with New Glenn does question whether Blue Origin can meet a 5-7 year timeline to provide the core of a space station. By contrast, Sierra Space is due to start flying their Dreamchaser Cargo vehicle on resupply flights to the ISS in 2022, and prior to losing on a contract to fly a crewed variant of the vehicle to carrying astronauts to / from the ISS as part of NASA Commercial Crew Programme, SNC has continued to maintain research into a crewed version of the vehicle.

Other entities / consortiums throwing their hats into the ring to provide commercial orbital facilities include Axiom Space, with plans – as noted in past Space Sunday articles – to fly at least one module to the ISS in the mid-2020s, with the planes to use the module(s) it flies to the ISS as the core of a new station as ISS reaches its end-of-life at the end of the 2020s. Another consortium, Nanoracks, Voyager Space Holdings and Lockheed Martin, announced plans to fly a much more modest space station, Starlab. Utilising an inflatable module and core docking / power facility, Starlab would have an internal volume of 340 cubic metres and would be capable of supporting up to 4 people at a time.

Hubble Suffers Further Glitch

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the thirty-year-old veteran of orbital space science, suffered a further operational glitch on Monday, October 25th, unexpectedly switching itself into a “safe” mode that has suspended all science operations.

The switch-over happened after Hubble experienced synchronisation issues with its internal communications”; however, the telescope is reported to otherwise be in good health. This is the second time this year the telescope has switched to a safe mode – in summer an issue with the primary payload computer that took a month to diagnose and rectify, gave rise to concerns over HST’s future – although this issue is not as serious, but there is currently no estimate as to when normal operations might be resumed.

While it may not be considered serious, this latest issue is, however, indicative of HST’s advancing years and the fact that it was last serviced in 2009, so sadly, elements aboard it will be approaching their end-of-life – although it is hoped the telescope will be able to remain operation through until the late 2030s.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: space stations, telescopes and images”

Grimm Stories, steampunk tales and fantasy treats in Second Life

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home in Nowhereville, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

Sunday, October 31st, 13:30: The Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786–1859), were German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers and authors who together collected and published folklore during the 19th century. They were among the first and best-known collectors of German and European folk tales. Their classic collection, Children’s and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), was published in two volumes: the first in 1812 and the second in 1815, with multiple revisions between then and 1857 that saw the collection of tales grow from 156 stories to more than 200.

In addition to collecting and editing folk tales, the brothers compiled German legends, whilst working individually, they published a large body of linguistic and literary scholarship. In 1838 they began working on a massive historical German dictionary (Deutsches Wörterbuch) – but were only able to reach the word Frucht (fruit) within their own lifetimes.

Many of their folk tales have enjoyed enduring popularity, being available in more than 100 languages, and adapted by filmmakers the world over. Possibly less well-known is that during the 1930s and 1940s, the tales were used as propaganda by the Third Reich, tarnishing their appeal outside of Germany in the war years. Later in the 20th century, psychologists such as Bruno Bettelheim reaffirmed the value of the tales in spite of the cruelty and violence to be found in some of the original versions – which the Grimms themselves had sought to sanitise through their editing and writing.

The Tea Time Crew (Da5id Abbot, Gloriana Maertens, Corwyn Allen, Kayden Oconnell, Caledonia Skytower, and Elrik Merlin) presents five of these tales, mostly from the lesser known parts of the canon. All would be grim enough on your average day, but are all the more so on All Hallows.

The stories will also be available via Virtual Community Radio – so tune-in via your Internet radio player, your browser or even you parcel’s audio stream!

At the Haunted Hollow.

Monday, November 1st, 19:00: The Stone God Awakens

A 20th century scientist is rendered frozen at the molecular level, and then reanimated millennia later by a freak accident. He finds himself in a strange world populated by sentient, anthropomorphic animals, who take his awakening to be the fulfilment of prophecy.

He accepts the mantle of godhood and sets about discovering this brave new world, hoping to find clues to the past while finding his place as the last human. But his quest leads to to question the reality of his status – might other humans also have survived? To find the answers he must lead his tribe of feline worshippers to the heart of a rival god: a great tree spanning half a continent.

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads a novella by the fantasy and sci-fi author Philip José Farmer.

Tuesday, November 2nd

12:00 Noon: Russell Eponym

With music, and poetry in Ceiluradh Glen.

19:00: The Wild Wood

A young artist returns to her cabin in the deep woods of Canada to concentrate on her illustrations. But somehow, strange and beautiful creatures are slipping into her drawings and sketches. The world of Faerie is reaching out to her for help – and she may be its last chance for survival.

With Willow Moonfire.

Wednesday, November 3rd, 19:00 Steampunk Stories

Finn Zeddore opens the pages of Lightspeed magazine to read Carrie Vaughn’s Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil.

Some would say the Cult of Egil was not far wrong, to take the artefact as a holy talisman. Harry couldn’t be bothered with the theology of the matter. She needed it for more mundane purposes. This was a piece of Aetherian technology that no one else in the world possessed. Britain had brought Aetherian wonders to the rest of humanity; by rights, it should have this as well, before anyone else. If she could convey it back home successfully.
Carefully, with gloved hands, she removed the object from its stone niche, where it had rested for centuries deep underground, inside the dormant volcano where the mysterious Icelandic cult that guarded it made its home. It hardly weighed anything. Surely the tingling she felt from it was her mind playing tricks. Merely the anticipation of finally having it in her possession. Nerves, that was all.

Thursday, November 4th

19:00: Alice In Wonderland

Don’t fall down any rabbit holes, or allow yourself to get waylaid by airborne grins, because this is one tea party date for which you cannot afford to be late as Shandon Loring dives into Lewis Carroll’s popular tale – albeit this time a version with a certain Tim Burton twist!

21:00: Seanchai Late Night

Contemporary sci-fi / fantasy with Finn Zeddmore.

Artistic Sensuality in Second Life

Art Korner: Izabela Navarathna – Sensuality

Update, June 27th, 2022: Art Korner has Closed.

Words have a habit of evolving over time. Take “sensuality” as an example. Within the English language, it has its roots in the 14th Century Old French sensualite (“the five senses”), which in turn lies rooted in the Late Latin Sensualitatem (nominative sensualitas) “capacity for sensation,” or  “endowed with feeling.” As used in the 14th Century, the term was oft used as a sign of “spirituality”, describing the ability to sense or perceive the meaning of Holy Scripture. Two hundred years later, however, “sensuality” was largely frowned upon by the religious, who saw it as a direct reference to our baser animal instincts and lusts of the flesh.

Today, we tend to use the word to express the the idea of enjoyment of the innocently pleasurable to give it an edge of “naughtiness” (“the sensually smooth dark chocolate”; ” the rich, sensual aroma from the blend of oils…”, etc.), as well as in reference to the lascivious and suggestive – particularly in reference to the female form. The latter use is perhaps most noticeable within the world of photography and advertising, where images – generally in monochrome – are used to encourage desire without actually being in sexually explicit it is the suggestion of want might happen or might just have happened, that is used to taunt our senses and emotions.

All of which forms a lengthy introduction to a collection of 32 images by Second Life photographer Izabela Navarathna entitled Sensuality, which is currently open through until November 15th, 2021 at Frank Atisso’s Art Korner Gallery.

Art Korner: Izabela Navarathna – Sensuality

This is a veritable tour de force of photographic depictions of sensuality that at first appears to be lifted from that monochrome world of suggestive advertising – but which is actually far more, offering as it does multiple takes on the idea of sensuality. And whilst the the use of monochrome might suggest an intent to emulate such advertising images, it is actually because since her entered the world of Second Life photography, Izabela has specialised in black-and white avatar studies, believing – and I would agree with her – that they convey a greater depth of emotional content.

Within them, we can find the full range of interpretations of sensuality from the clear pleasures of the flesh evoking by touch, closeness and – yes – the suggestion of sexual activity (which carries with it a discomforting frisson as we are cast also into the role of voyeur), through to pieces that might be considers personal takes on the “classical” suggestions of female sensuality, and the use of an image to engage our senses in response, through to a reminder that sensuality can be experienced in multiple ways, some simple others through our need to simply indulge ourselves, with many (if not all) of the pieces containing a subtle twist or layering of meaning.

The clearest examples of sensuality as experienced through physical pleasures are those featuring both man and woman together. But then there are images such as Wings, Hand in Hand and Back all of which present suggestions of sensual, sexual bondage – the placement of hands and arms behind back, the collar around the neck, together with an innocent twist through their titles. Elsewhere, Cherry, presents a classical image of the sensual / sexual: a ripe fruit caressed by pouting lips as they hold it almost teasingly; whilst the use of nude and semi-nude images present the that subtle projection of sexuality, the desire to be able to touch without tipping into raw nudity: it is the suggestion, rather than the exposure, giving them a sensual twist.

And then there are the likes of I Wait To See You Smiling, My Body Is My Temple, and Rose, all of which offer their own takes of the use of a partially-shadowed face, camera angle and / or single item – a hat, the cigarette, a rose, to evoke a system of sensual mystery and desire.

In this respect, I could wax on about individual images, but these are pieces that deserve to be witnessed first-hand and their richness experienced, they are a genuine and skilled demonstration of the art of photography, the ability to evoke an idea and / or sensation merged with a narrative skill that is utterly superb; Izabella has a unique ability to visually encourage the imagination in one direction, then pull the emotions in another, just be her consideration of the title she gives a piece.

Just take La Llorona (which, of all the pieces in the collection, for me is the most utterly captivating). Within it there are all the familiar suggestions of sensuality: the woman in the bath; pouted lips, lowered eyes, the symbolic cigarette held between languid fingers, the presence of the decanter indicating a rich liqueur / liquor awaiting consumption. All speak to sensuality (and a hint of sexuality).  But then take the title of the piece into consideration, and the emotional narrative is utterly transformed, and with it our perception of what each element in the image is actually saying.

Art Korner: Izabela Navarathna – Sensuality

Most of all, however, is the manner in which this collection offers a stunning demonstration of Izabella’s skills as a photographer, storyteller, and sensualist (in the most positive sense of the word) through her choice of pose, camera angle and lighting, followed by cropping and finish. to produce imaginative images that weave subtle narratives through perfectly framed images.

A truly engaging exhibition, offering much to appreciate and admire.